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Life & Work with Pete Callejas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Pete Callejas.

Hi Pete, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
My curiosity for historic homes and architecture began early in life traveling to New England on vacation and visiting historic mansions with my family along the way. I fell in love with architecture as a carpenter, renovating historic homes in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and building custom homes in Great Falls, Virginia, and Potomac Maryland.

I did quality carpentry and residential construction, as a teen and into my 30s, taking night classes at Northern Virginia Community College for construction management, engineering, and architecture. By 33, and after my third knee operation, it was time for me to make a career change. My body was telling me to get out, but I wanted to continue my journey by pursuing an architecture degree, which brought me to SCAD in 1996.

I found that Savannah agreed with me and after graduating I decided to grow roots here, working for some very talented architects and being fortunate enough to be involved in many award-winning projects at the Ford Plantation, Palmetto Bluff, Oldfield Plantation, and Savannah’s Landmark Historic District.

My favorite projects were always the historic renovations and restorations, and have had the pleasure of working with lots of great clients, as well as collaborating with other local architects.

I started Homestead Architecture, LLC in 2012 and I have been busy ever since. I enjoy being self-employed for the freedom that is afforded me, despite the increased workload. I find it challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling in the sense that it is a way to do what I love, I can express my creativity in ways that I couldn’t before, and I enjoy the alliance with my clients.

Originally, I had planned to get an office, hire an intern, and bring my wife Gretchen, also an architect, into the mix. However, she has thrived with another local architectural firm and I have been content with the way things are going. I prefer to keep things simple and efficient since design and construction can have their own complexities, and I would rather do what I love rather than become a business manager. I don’t even have a website (yet) and I have never advertised.

I feel extremely fortunate to be where I am today and grateful for all that I have worked in this profession, but I am also thankful for the experience that an 18-year construction career has brought me. I think of myself as an artist and a craftsman first, and an architect second. I am a blue-collar architect, never a star-chitect.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Well, to be honest, my career change also was coupled with an epic life change; when I first came to Savannah, I soon celebrated three years of sobriety. Without getting into the details, I will say that it began with a knee operation, dealing with that pain, and later finding myself at the mercy of drugs and alcohol.

I hit rock bottom on October 30, 1993, as I prayed to a God that I did not yet know or understood, living on the streets of (i.e. Washington, D.C.) without a penny to my name. Through some sort of divine intervention, I made my way to the salvation army adult rehabilitation center for men in Annandale, Virginia. I worked a 12-step program relentlessly for fear that I would fall again.

I won’t get into it here, but after a series of events, opportunities, help from others, and sober life decisions, I was able to get accepted to SCAD, received student loans, find a place to live and go to work as a student. I was so afraid of failing that I worked extra hard to complete my assignments, pass my tests, produce countless models and drawings, and show up to nearly every class. I loved it! Best four years ever (up to that point).

I graduated with a 4.0 GPA as valedictorian for the class of 2000. Believe me, this is the short version. I would like to write a book about my experiences, for it may help people who have or are going through similar circumstances that I did. There is always hope and miracles do happen.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I guess my specialty would be high-end residential architecture, historic renovations, and quality construction documentation, but I also love the design process itself, as well as the construction process, and working with my clients through the completion of the project.

I am most proud of the collaborative efforts with Sottile on the Armstrong mansion renovation, a 26,000 s.f. 1919 estate home at bull and Gaston. It was a three-year project and extremely involved.

The fascinating part was the historic mansion, the level of detail, and the relatively excellent condition it was in after being a residence, a college, and a law office for over its 100 years of existence. The client had great vision and determination to do this project with the utmost level of perfection and sensitivity to the historic fabric of the building.

I was the creator of the architectural construction documents for the project, including extensive detailing of every aspect of the renovation, and was involved in the construction process almost daily until 2019.

Many challenges were overcome during construction that has since been forgotten, but what sticks with me was the success of an entire team of professionals, artisans, and contractors, how well we worked together, and the end result we were able to deliver.

The Armstrong mansion received the Georgia trust for historic preservation 2020 excellence in rehabilitation award.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
Obviously, I like the architecture here in savannah; the quality of life, the slower pace than the D.C. area, being near the water, and the long autumn and spring seasons we get.

The people are great here and I see something new every time I go into the historic district. I love the culture that surrounds history, art, music, and food. I’ve been here for 25 years and can finally say this is my home, northern Virginia becoming a distant memory. I met my wife Gretchen here, I (we) got married here and my son was born here in 2009.

I don’t care for the summer heat and humidity, but it’s a tradeoff I am willing to accept for the other nine months of pretty good weather. Also: red lights: I wish savannah could figure out how to synchronize the traffic lights so that I didn’t have to stop at every single light. (ha, ha; a pet peeve of mine).

Image Credits:

Kathy Ma, AIA Photography, and Chase Daniel Photography

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1 Comment

  1. Alvin Green

    May 24, 2022 at 7:56 pm

    Great life story, we don’t always start with the gift and passion that make life worth living. We sometimes have to go through the rough times and trust in God to make a way out of no way. Thanks for sharing from a friend Alvin.

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